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BACKGROUND: The number of gluten-free diet followers without celiac disease (CD) is increasing. However, little is known about the characteristics of these individuals. OBJECTIVES: We address this issue by investigating a wide range of genetic and phenotypic characteristics in association with following a gluten-free diet. METHODS: The cross-sectional association between lifestyle and health-related characteristics and following a gluten-free diet was investigated in 124,447 women and men aged 40-69 y from the population-based UK Biobank study. A genome-wide association study (GWAS) of following a gluten-free diet was performed. RESULTS: A total of 1776 (1.4%) participants reported following a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free diet followers were more likely to be women, nonwhite, highly educated, living in more socioeconomically deprived areas, former smokers, have lost weight in the past year, have poorer self-reported health, and have made dietary changes as a result of illness. Conversely, these individuals were less likely to consume alcohol daily, be overweight or obese, have hypertension, or use cholesterol-lowering medication. Participants with hospital inpatient diagnosed blood and immune mechanism disorders (OR: 1.62; 95% CI: 1.18, 2.21) and non-CD digestive system diseases (OR: 1.58; 95% CI: 1.42, 1.77) were more likely to follow a gluten-free diet. The GWAS demonstrated that no genetic variants were associated with being a gluten-free diet follower. CONCLUSIONS: Gluten-free diet followers have a better cardiovascular risk profile than non-gluten-free diet followers but poorer self-reported health and a higher prevalence of blood and immune disorders and digestive conditions. Reasons for following a gluten-free diet warrant further investigation.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Clin Nutr

Publication Date



UK Biobank, cross-sectional study, genome-wide association study, gluten free, health, lifestyle